Game Development Reference
same way as they were in the first-person present, with uncertainty, deci-
sion, and consequence intact. The story told is not the story lived.
These interactive forms—museums, galleries, real spaces, and life—
should be our first touchstones as we search for narrative tools. These
older forms address our most fundamental challenge: creating a story that
flexes and reshapes itself around the player's choices, and deepens the
meaning of everything the player does.
This topic won't discuss what makes a good story. Better authors than I
have been covering this topic ever since Aristotle wrote his Poetics . They've
already explained how to craft a plot with interesting reversals and good
pacing. They've described how to create lifelike, layered characters who are
worth caring about. They've explored theme, setting, and genre. I'm not a
dedicated story crafter; I doubt I have much to add to this massive body of
knowledge (though game designers should understand these ideas, so I've
recommended a starting text at the end of the topic).
What this chapter covers are the tools that games use to express a
story, because that's where game design diverges from the past 2,300 years
of story analysis.
A NARRATIVE TOOL is some device used to form a piece of a story in a
Most story media are restricted to a small set of tools. A comic book
storyteller gets written speech bubbles and four-color art. A filmmaker gets
24 frames per second and stereo sound. A novelist gets 90,000 words. A
museum exhibitor gets the layout of the space, info panels, dioramas, and
perhaps a few interactive toys.
Games are broader. Like film, we can use predefined sequences of
images and sounds. Like a novel, we can use written text. Like a comic
book, we can put up art and let people flip through it. Like a museum, we
can create a space for players to explore. And we have tools that nobody
else has: we can create mechanics that generate plot, character, and even
theme on the fly, and do it in response to players' decisions.
Our narrative tools divide roughly into three main classes: scripted
story, world narrative, and emergent story.
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